“Maybe the last article that you should publish on the blog should be a reflection on writing,” Irina, my supervisor, suggested at the beginning of June. We met for coffee just a few days before I went back to Skopje for the summer.
Irina’s suggestion was probably more of an assignment. Such a piece felt like a daunting task. Though I have been thinking about this piece for a month, I am still struggling to reflect on my own writing. For most of my time as a Die Bärliner contributor, I have written pieces that present a particular argument. When it came to making an argument about why my writing is a particular way, I initially had trouble, but ultimately decided that the best approach to understanding my writing is to retrace how and why I have written articles in the past.
When talking about writing, often there is the myth of the (usually male) genius writer. They come up with an idea and execute it from start to finish. This trope couldn’t be further from the truth of how the writing process has worked for me. Both as a writer and an editor, I have learned that other people’s input is essential to crafting an article. From our blog meetings where we brainstorm ideas, to getting comments about the overall argument of the article, to copy-editing, writing is anything but a solitary process. I’ve loved helping writers figure out how to structure their articles – Alexandra Huff’s article about the police community oversight board in Nashville is a good example of an article that in its initial stages had plenty of content but was still searching for its form. I’ve also loved being helped – for example, Claire August helped me with the article about my Berlin family not only because she happens to be a part of it, but because she is very good at helping writers express themselves better. And of course, I would not be the writer that I am today without Marga’s persistent content-editing and her careful copy-editing.
However collaborative of a process writing is, at a certain point a writer must “know how to write” and must have something worthwhile to write about. Perhaps they have extensive knowledge in an area or they have done enough research in order to form an argument. Sometimes they have a personal connection to the subject or stand in solidarity with the issue at hand, which compels them to tackle it. The articles that I have written have often been a different combination of these factors.
As I have graduated and must be leaving Die Bärliner, I asked myself why I had devoted so much time to a publication such as a student blog in the first place. It has, of course, been a platform which allowed me to develop my writing, but the blog quickly became much more than that to me. Even as early as my blog interview with Irina and Marga in January 2017, I knew that I wanted to focus on political topics. When I joined the blog, we didn’t have a very strong readership, but I have watched that readership grow over the years. Writing on the blog became about communicating ideas with both the BCB community and an outside readership which we were also gaining. The significance of the blog became most evident to me when organizing and fighting for the release of BCB student Sara Mardini, who was imprisoned for more than three months in Greece on unproven charges stemming from anti-refugee sentiments. Writing several articles about Sara helped rally the BCB community and raised wider awareness about her case — I met quite a few Berlin activists that advocated for Sara and her fellow volunteers, who became informed about the situation thanks in part to my articles about Sara. The experience with this case in particular made me wonder: what has writing on Die Bärliner has meant to me? Why I did it consistently for the past two and a half years?
First, there is, of course, the more “selfish” motive that the student blog could serve as a portfolio that could provide contributors the opportunity to write for other publications and potentially reach bigger audiences. And, in turn, cross-platform collaboration also made Die Bärliner more visible and popular. For me, the first such publication was Public Seminar — the intellectual commons publication of The New School for Social Research — which republished my article about the attack on the Macedonian parliament in April, 2017. So far, they have republished versions of seven of my articles on topics such as white nationalism in the US and the #MeToo movement. My blog job also led to Jacobin Magazine commissioning me to write an article about the failed 2018 Macedonian referendum. And as of recently, I have been contributing to the first Macedonian (explicitly) feminist publication Медуза (Meduza) – I was contacted by the editor because she had read my articles that were shared on social media. Now, I am lucky enough to be, in some ways, one of the central feminist voices in Macedonia, all because I had started publishing feminist articles for Die Bärliner.
Getting a bigger audience and being able to publish on other platforms increased both my confidence as a writer and made me more convinced of the importance of our small student platform – our most read article was my article on the differences between Eastern and Western Europe that got over 800 reads. Slowly, a kind of pattern emerged out of the articles that I was writing and there were two intertwined motivations behind my pieces: 1) documentation/analysis, and 2) solidarity.
As students of humanities and social sciences, it is imperative that we use that knowledge both inside and outside the academy. Some of my articles, such as the one discussing the ambiguous position of Eastern Europe, were marked by theoretical academic analysis. Typically, the articles that I have written have been sparked by particular current events, movements or political trends, which I have analysed through a critical lens. When it came to events like the deadly far-right Charlottesville attacks or the #MeToo movement, I felt that I should contribute to the public conversation. While I am not a scholar (yet), being humanities student has given me the academic tools to analyse current events through an academic lens. However, unlike writing for academia — which often uses highbrow language or specific terms — I try to analyse through an academic lens but try to make the final product easily accessible to a wider readership. To me, that is the role that humanities students and academics should play outside of academia — a role which may often translate from interpretation or analysis to activism.
While I would not claim that writing alone is a form of activism, I think that writing matched with support for marginalized people, imagining a better society, and a call to demonstrate or take action becomes a form of activism. No matter the outreach of the blog, by writing about issues related to social justice or specific political events, I and other writers who chose to tackle such topics were actively engaging in politics. When writing about CEU and the demonstrations she attended, Claire August showed her solidarity with the issue not only through the act of protesting, but also through the act of documenting. When Daniela Silva and Asa Dahlborn wrote about Bolsanaro’s rise in Brazil, they also took part in this act of documenting, which is essential for any political movement. So did Alexandra Huff when she wrote about No More Deaths and the public sector strike in Germany. And so did many others.
Articles that record and analyse political acts allow those acts to be visible in the public sphere and can change people’s minds and actions. Especially when fighting from the margins, it is imperative to be seen. And especially when having a platform — no matter its size — it is imperative for writers to bring those issues out from the margins and offer public support. That is what writing means to me.
Some liberals and other thinkers claim that one can only write about their own experiences. Women should only tackle “women’s issues”, queer people should only tackle “queer issues”, black writers “black issues”, and so on. While this opinion often seeks to amplify marginalized voices, it can hinder solidarity. While writers who do not come from particular marginalized groups should never claim to have had the experiences of said identity groups, they can certainly have opinions about how liberation for those groups can be achieved. For example, though I am not black, the work I have done on prison abolition requires that I consider black liberation more generally.
A white girl once told me that I shouldn’t criticize more moderate black movements because I am not black, that somehow because I am not black I couldn’t have an opinion on the topic. I find this opinion to be profoundly damaging. It implies that one could only truly understand their own experiences or the ones of their specific identity group. It means that there could be no understanding between people of different identity groups and everyone would only be fighting for their “own” causes. As a result, the political sphere could never truly be changed, because people wouldn’t be working together towards a common goal. This opinion renders writing irrelevant because the gaps between different groups — men and women, queers and straights, people of color and white people — could never be bridged.
And that’s simply not true.
Writing has been one of the key tools for social progress. Writing that has documented political movements or explored societal norms and trends — whether in prose, poetry, or media — has been essential in changing society for the better. Writing can make people understand the lives of people whose immediate experiences they do not share — for example, through feminist texts, men can come closer to understanding the struggles of the women in their lives. Writing can be a vehicle through which we can not only imagine a better world, but figure out how we can work together to get there. As I leave Die Bärliner, I hope that my writing will broaden at least a few readers’ understanding of other people’s lives and the political landscape, an understanding that will lead to solidarity.